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Deforestation leakage undermines conservation value of tropical and subtropical forest protected areas

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Aim: The establishment of protected areas is among the most widespread responses to mitigate species loss. Although protected areas are often assumed to have conservation benefits, negative impacts have also been documented. One potential negative outcome is leakage, whereby protected areas displace land-use activities harmful to conservation into adjacent areas. This can undermine protection by accelerating loss of species or skewing judgements of effectiveness. This study assessed the prevalence of deforestation leakage in a pan-tropical and subtropical selection of 120 protected areas. Location: Tropical and subtropical forest regions of America, Africa and Asia. Time period: 2001–2017. Major taxa studied: Threatened species of amphibians, birds and terrestrial mammals. Methods: We used Global Forest Change data to assess the average yearly rate of deforestation in protected areas, protected area buffer zones and statistically matched, unprotected control areas. We calculated and compared irreplaceability of habitat for threatened amphibian, bird and terrestrial mammal species between protected areas and buffer zones. Results: In 55 cases, deforestation rates were higher in buffer zones than in protected and control areas, suggesting a relatively high prevalence of deforestation leakage stemming from protected areas. In 78.2% of documented leakage cases, reduced deforestation in protected areas was not sufficient to offset the amount of deforestation in 10 km buffer zones to a level that would be expected without protection. In 90.9% of leakage cases, the irreplaceability of species in the 10 km buffer zone was greater than that of the protected area, implying a negative impact of leakage on threatened species. Main conclusions: The results suggest that protected areas are generally effective at preventing deforestation within their jurisdiction; however, leakage patterns can undermine conservation success because buffer zones often contain habitat for threatened species. We recommend accounting for the possibility of leakage when designing new protected areas and networks. © 2020 The Authors. Global Ecology and Biogeography published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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